English language Uncategorized

Eye of the storm

Q: Please comment on two egregious mistakes perpetrated by our less-than-literate media people: (1) Misusing “eye of the storm” to mean the thick of a chaotic situation instead of the calm in the middle. (2) The abuse of “begging the question,” a mistake in logic, to mean raising or avoiding a question. Oh, well, I guess that’s how language changes. Arggggggh!

A: We agree with you about “eye of the storm.” But a case can be made—a weak case, in our opinion—for using the expression to refer to the thick of it.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives this as one of the meanings of the noun “eye”: “The center or focal point of attention or action: right in the eye of the controversy.”

So one could use “eye of the storm” loosely to describe the focal point of a storm of controversy. But we’d rather save the expression for its meteorological meaning (the relative calm at the center of a storm) or a corresponding figurative use.

As you say, however, language does change, and “begging the question” is a perfect example of it. Pat has spoken about this on WNYC, and we’ve discussed “to beg the question”—its origins and its subsequent development—on our blog.

Our conclusion? The expression has been ruined by too many years of misuse. It now doesn’t mean much of anything.

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